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May 19, 2019

7/18/2018 10:59:00 AM
Residents question use of tax money in Unit 2 facility
Robinson Unit 2 school board Monday answered questions from local residents concerned about the use of their tax dollars, especially in regard to plans for a new transportation facility.

Several taxpayers were present for Monday's board meeting with questions on topics ranging from whether the current South Jackson Street facility couldn't be fixed up to whether that many students actually still ride buses.

Board members, however, said they are seeking the best, most-cost-effective way of dealing with the situation, pointing out the final decision has not been made and that plans are still being "whittled down" to ensure a new facility won't costs taxpayers any extra.

As James Keller pointed out, the lion's share of property taxes paid in Unit 2 - 60 percent - go to the school district. His concern was that property taxes could increase if a new facility is built behind Robinson High School.

Unit 2 has no plans to raise taxes for the proposed facility, Board President Dennis Inboden said. "We've been saving diligently for over a decade," he said. "We hope to pay cash for it."

Superintendent Josh Quick pointed out the board has contiued to ask for revisions that will lower the architect's estimated cost of the project to between $2 and $2.2 million.

The latest changes, which may reduce square-footage and eliminate a work bay, arrived Monday, too late for board members to review them.

The Operations and Maintenance Committee is expected to look them over and return to the full board with a recommendation in August.

It was pointed out the board only has the architect's cost estimates to go on. Only once bids have been received on the project will members have a concrete price for it. And if all bids come in too high, the board can reject them and start over.

"Our decision-making process is very slow and deliberate," Quick said. Work toward a new facility dates back to 2008 and has only been ramped up in the past few months.

Still, the goal is to have the facility ready to replace the current one on South Jackson Street by the end of calendar year 2019. The board opted to stop spending as much on upkeep for the former Heath dairy building years ago because it was no longer cost effective.

Besides housing transportation, the old building also contains central storage. it is a little more than half full.

Unfortunately, it also tends to be a "catch-all, like an empty space in a garage" for items that may be needed again someday, Inboden explained.

The proposed facility might also be the new home of central storage, but would be smaller than the old structure.

Inboden admitted he did not know exactly how much it would cost to fix up the old building, but said Unit 2 received an estimate of more than $400,000 just to re-roof it some time back.

he added the board would get an estimate on repairs to compare to the cost of new construction.

The board may also get an estimate on the cost of purchasing and renovating the former Anderson Buick dealership on North Jackson, a suggestion made by someone on social media during the weekend.

Both Jackson Street properties have two strikes against them, however.

The first is that using either of them will not give the district the opportunity to "reduce its footprint" by selling off property and consolidating its facilities on the north end of Robinson.

More important, however, is the issue of security. Quick and Inboden pointed out that if all the buses were kept behind RHS and Nuttall Middle School, students from the two schools could be loaded on them in a matter of minutes in case of an emergency.

Greg Bachelor added keeping the buses in a fenced lot rather than the open one used now might also limit vandalism.

Another reason the board is considering building behind the high school is that it will allow buses to be routed into storage after dropping off students, rather than back out onto Highland Avenue.

From 7:40 to 8:15 a.m., buses and private vehicles driven by parents and students jockey for position in the crowded street in front of RHS and NMS. Taking buses out of the mix would aliviate traffic problems.

Gary Woolverton asked if many students still ride buses.

The amount of students eligible to ride remains relatively constant between 800 and 900. The district runs 20 routes, reaching from Oblong and Willow Hill to Hutsonville, daily.

On any given day, about two-thirds of the eligible students might be aboard the fleet.

Woolverton also asked if Unit 2 had considered hiring a third party to handle busing.

Yes, Quick said, along with farming out custodial and food services. However, the potential savings in hiring a third party might not be as large as expected.

A state law requires school districts that hire such services to have contractors provide pay and benefits equal to what they pay their employees.

In other business, the board is considering reinstating some of the programs and positions cut in years past when Unit 2 was strapped for cash.

Based in input from the four schools, a committee reported that the number-one position staff would like to have restored is a second elementary-level guidance counselor.

The district has only one counselor at that grade level, Quick said, and she is "spread very thin" covering both Washington and Lincoln elementary schools. Often, she is forced to decide which of two situations she needed to deal with first.

Also, because she spends much of her time on intervention, she has little time to work on prevention measures, which even at the elementary level can ultimately make schools safer and more secure.

Health issues are involved in another position that could be added.

In recent years, Unit 2 has had two part-time school nurses, each working at two of the four schools. Like the counselor, they frequently find themselves needed in two places at once.

Quick said this could be resolved by increasing their hours.

Another position that could be restored would be that of assistant principal at NMS.

When Craig Beals was promoted to principal, his former position was not filled. This has left him without assistance for dealing with the discipline issues of 360 students.

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